Catherine Britt – Little Wildflower
Catherine Britt released her third album, Little Wildflower, in her native Australia. This album, produced by Brett Beavers, attempts to cover ground in both contemporary and traditional country and while her contemporary contributions are decent, they blend in with current offerings from other artists. However, Britt’s performance and smoky vocals truly shine when she leans old school. Fellow Aussie Keith Urban collaborates with an electric guitar solo in “What I Did Last Night,” an honest self-assessment of the afflictions associated with addiction. A couple weeks after recording the track, Urban checked into rehab. Britt has nine writing credits on the album with a bevy of accomplished songwriters, such as Bobby Pinson on “What I Did Last Night,” Ashley Monroe on “You Run,” and Hillary Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, and Chris Lindsey on “You’re The One I Love.” Catherine Britt’s talent is undeniable and it’s a shame she hasn’t caught her break stateside. — Brady Vercher
Laura Bryna – Trying To Be Me
Give Laura Bryna credit for choosing songs that don’t rely on lyrical familiarities even as they tug at the heartstrings. The songs on Trying to be Me make a good faith effort to bring a fresh perspective to some tired themes but the writing isn’t well developed enough to be incisive. Most importantly, Bryna’s sound is too bland to be memorable and even the record’s above average songs lack presence. “Room 228″ is a good example of what’s wrong with this album: in attempting to avoid lyrical cliché the writers become too rote descriptive to make the cheating song emotive, while Bryna misuses her few vocal tricks to yield an odd interpretation. — Matt C.
Dailey & Vincent – Dailey & Vincent
Dailey & Vincent don’t strive to achieve anything groundbreaking on this album–it’s just straight up bluegrass with mostly ordinary songs–and while normally that might adversely affect the quality of an album, the striking manner in which they masterfully perform this collection of songs elevates this album to another level. The vocal and instrumental performances throughout the album are excellent and the harmonies and timing are nearly perfect. Simply put, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended. — Brady Vercher
Tim Hensley – Long Monday
Long Monday, the less heralded of two albums produced by Kenny Chesney and Buddy Cannon released in January, is Tim Hensley’s debut solo effort. It’s a mixture of country and bluegrass that nicely blends subtle vocal deliveries with bluegrass arrangments to create a refreshingly subdued sound that places the songs at the forefront. Hensley spent years as a journeyman with Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, and Chesney and his album features vocal assistance from Loveless and Vince Gill among other artists. Long Monday–consisting of strong songs from the title track, penned by John Prine and Keith Sykes, to “Ridin’ Out the Storm” by Rodney Crowell–is delightfully free of Chesney’s typical production tricks and isn’t merely content to follow any popular trends. — Brady Vercher
Anne Murray – Duets: Friends & Legends
An unimaginably boring and tragically uninspired collection of estrogen-fueled covers, Duets: Friends and Legends is a completely pointless album that insults the incredible talent of artists like Nelly Furtado, Emmylou Harris and even Murray herself. From dull vocal arrangements to suburban musical settings, it’s all as safe as it is saccharine, and Murray may have invented the universal cure for insomnia. — Jim Malec
Willie Nelson – Moment Of Forever
The lastest Wille Nelson album, Moment of Forever, was produced by Nashville superstar Kenny Chesney and by the first track Chesney is attempting to play the part of Daniel Lanois, acclaimed U2 producer, who produced Willie’s 1998 album Teatro. The final story on Willie’s latest is twofold. First, Kenny Chesney has bad taste. From “The Bob Song” to the incredibly lame Walt Disney outros on many of the tunes, to the decision to leave “I’m Alive” the starkest musically, to the decision to muddle the opening track and “Always Now” with silly musical additions to make them seem “cool,” Kenny is flying the poor taste flag and shows why he shouldn’t make a habit of producing other artists. The second story is that this was an overall disappointing album. What might have made up many of the good moments were tarnished by production, and the bad moments were many and close together. Should you buy the record? Eh, if you have a few bucks to spare and want to hear a few good new Willie songs sure, but don’t expect greatness. — Ben Cisneros
The SteelDrivers – The SteelDrivers
Track-by-track, The Steeldrivers is incredible, but the album doesn’t hang together well. There’s simply too much energy on this album. I felt like I needed a nap after the one, two, three album-opening punch of “Blue Side of the Mountain,” “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey” and “Midnight Train to Memphis,” and Stapleton’s vocals, once interesting, simply become relentless somewhere around track six and diversity quickly succumbs to homogeneity. The Steeldrivers is the kind of album made for the iPod. Every one of these tracks will sound great in the country and bluegrass fan’s shuffle, but an interesting top-to-bottom album it is not. — Matt C.
Owen Temple – Two Thousand Miles
Inspiration is everywhere says Two Thousand Miles, the latest release from Texas music virtuoso Owen Temple. This influx of influence creates subject matter as diverse and numerous as the list of Lorrie Morgan’s ex-husbands. Impregnated with inspiration and metaphorically prolific, Owen Temple yields a delightful array of lyric driven songs on Two Thousand Miles. — Brody Vercher
Rhonda Vincent – Good Thing Going
As usual, Vincent’s vocal performance and musicianship are beyond reproach. However, her decision to embrace a more country sound engenders idiosyncratic genre obligations that Vincent does not entirely meet. While there’s not a bad song on Good Thing Going, there’s not a great one either, though “I Gotta Start Somewhere” comes close. Nonetheless, Good Thing Going is a solid work of country-bluegrass that should attract interest from a wide swath of the genres’ fan bases. — Matt C.
Chuck Wicks – Starting Now
Wicks’ sound comes across as a blend of Rascal Flatts and Ty Herndon, which isn’t entirely suprising considering Dann Huff co-produced the ablum (he’s produced albums for Rascal Flatts). Wicks is technically proficient, although nothing less should be expected from a major label, but unfortunately, whether you consider the vocal performance or songwriting, nothing stands out as especially compelling. It’s your average, generic fluff meant to capitalize on the successful pop formula of Rascal Flatts. — Brady Vercher
The Wrights – The Wrights
With one album to their name, the husband and wife duo consisting of Adam and Shannon Wright recently released a followup EP simply titled The Wrights on a label (ACR) owned by Adam’s uncle, Alan Jackson. It was music that brought the couple together over ten years ago and lead to love and now it’s love that inspires the music. The Wrights’ self-titled EP is a splendid and refreshing album with a focus on mature songwriting that doesn’t resort to banal love cliches. It’s a fine example of what country music can and should be. My one complaint is that it had to end after only eight songs. — Brady Vercher
Other Albums Released In January
Hazzard – Choices
Dana Hazzard, a former member of Jason Boland & The Stragglers, branches out on his own as lead singer/fiddle player on the debut album from the group Hazzard.
Austin Lucas – Putting the Hammer Down
A weird fusion of bluegrass and folk-country, Putting The Hammer Down showcases some intelligent and well executed songwriting along with its odd but intriguing musical concept.
Stephen Simmons – Something In Between
Simmons’ Something In Bewteen is a smartly produced Alt. Country record that showcases an excellent voice but suffers from unmemorable songwriting–a somewhat ironic fact, considering that Simmons is currently featured on the American Songwriter 2008 Winter Tour.
Randy Thompson – Further On
Randy Thompson’s third album, Further On, features Don Helms’ steel guitar skills on the title track–a poem written by Thompson’s grandfather in the 1920’s that Randy happened to discover on a slip of parched paper after his grandfather died.
Twilight Hotel – Highway Prayer
Hailing from the frigid city eight hours north of Minneapolis, Brandy Zdan and her boyfriend/bandmate Dave Quanbury have crafted an organic and earthy sound that lands somewhere between folk, country, blues, and rock.